Joint project aims to rust-proof oat crops

March 9, 2023 | 5 Min read
The University of Sydney will lead an industry study that aims to reduce the impact of damaging crown rust, a fungal pathogen affecting Australian oat production.

The University of Sydney will lead an industry study that aims to reduce the impact of damaging crown rust, a fungal pathogen affecting Australian oat production.

World-renowned crop disease expert Professor Robert Park will lead the research team, working with two Australian oat-breeding companies, Intergrain, with a focus on hay and milling oats, and S&W Seed Company Australia, which has a focus on grazing oats for livestock.

The Australian oat industry has been plagued by recurring epidemics of the destructive disease, crown rust ever since oat cultivation began here. It occurs globally and is considered the most important disease limiting oat production worldwide.

“At S&W Seed Company Australia, we are excited to be part of this innovative research to rust proof the humble oat,” says Nicholas Willey R&D lead, S&W Seed Company Australia. “Oats are a big part of Australian agriculture and the University of Sydney is the perfect partner to develop new oat varieties with in-built genetic resistance.

“Thanks to the Australian Research Council for partnering with us and we look forward to placing the outcomes of this project into the hands of Australian farmers as soon as possible.”

Professor Park said crown rust causes severe damage to oat crops in Australia and, due to ongoing losses of important resistance genes since the early 1990s, it has become an intractable constraint to oat production. “Loss in grain yield can be as high as 50 percent in susceptible varieties,” he said.

Australia produces three oat types: grazing for the meat and livestock industries; hay for animal consumption; and milling for human or animal consumption.

Many grazing oat varieties with genetic resistance to crown rust were released in Australia from 1990-2020. Although resistant when first deployed, new rust strains emerged soon after, rendering all these varieties highly susceptible to the fungal disease.

“Our project aims to reduce the impact of crown rust in Australian oat production. It will deliver robust genetic resistance to crown rust to all Australian oat growers.” Professor Park said.

The University of Sydney team will work with researchers at Murdoch University and the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Germany.

Professor Park said the work with these colleagues will provide vital genetic expertise.

“The Leibniz Institute and Murdoch University are part of a global effort that is sequencing and characterising the oat genome. This work will accelerate our efforts to deliver oats with improved rust resistance to oat growers.

“We expect the project will also lead to responsible stewardship of broadly effective crown rust resistance in all types of oat production in Australia, increasing grower profitability, reducing reliance on fungicides and underpinning planned growth in our export oat market,” Professor Park said.

The team was awarded an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant to the value of $928,845.

Professor Robert Park is the Judith and David Coffey Chair of Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Sydney. He is the director of cereal rust research in the Sydney Institute of Agriculture and Professor in the University’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

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